Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Trouble with Workshops

As I blogged yesterday, I’m attending the Association for Psychological Science annual meeting, which is being held in Chicago this year. I’ve spent this afternoon in a workshop, on how to conduct structural equation modeling (one of my favorite statistical techniques) using an R package called lavaan.

The workshop lasted almost 4 hours and was taught by Yves Rosseel, who developed lavaan. Unfortunately, as I’ve discovered with many workshops, most of the session was spent giving a refresher course on structural equation modeling. We didn’t even get to R or lavaan until almost 1.5 hours into the workshop. This also meant we had little time to do hands-on work using the package; the practice session ended up running concurrently with the break, so we had to choose which we wanted. To be fair, he gave us the slides we would need to do the practice session, so we could do that after the session.

While I found the information interesting, and learned a thing or two, I wanted to spend more time digging into the program and how it could be used to test various structural equation models. This is especially because I’ve used lavaan before, and had a lot of success with it – it’s very user friendly compared to other R packages I’ve used – but wanted to learn to do more and go beyond the simple models I ran before.

The problem with workshops, of course, is that there are rarely prerequisites. So it’s difficult to assume everyone will come into the workshop with, say, a strong working knowledge of the underlying statistic, or some basic experience with the program.

But not impossible. Workshop descriptions could inform people what knowledge they are expected to have. Slides sent ahead of time (as these were) could contain background information slides, and attendees could be asked to review a portion of the slides on their own time prior to attending the workshop.

Even a simple survey among people signing up for the workshop could be used to assess how much people already know about a topic. (Obviously, asking people what they know can be problematic, but at the very least, you could find out where most of the people will be in terms of exposure to the subject matter, and shape the workshop around the majority group.)

That being said, I enjoyed the workshop and would recommend it to others. He’s an excellent teacher and very funny. My favorite comment from the session was his description of the mystical land of Asymptotia, a magical place where all the data are normally distributed.

Probably a neighbor of Lake Wobegon
I just wish they had allowed Professor Rosseel to teach 2 workshops, one about structural equation modeling alone and another about using lavaan.

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